A Catholic perspective on the world and all the good things therein, especially books and food. Literature cum chocolate is the order of the day at The Crockery.

Location: A Collegetown, Undisclosed Location, United States

No longer a graduate student, Teresa is now a professional know-it-all.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Decline and Fall

After years of deliberately not watching television, I have gradually been sucked back into following a few shows with my husband. We started with television shows on DVDs, then somehow progressed to actually watching them as their air. And now I find that I've been pulled into the drama of wondering not just "what will happen next?" but "will anything happen next?" Now, after a long span of near-freedom from the whims of (this branch of) the entertainment marketplace, I find myself worrying about whether the shows we watch will be renewed another year.

I've just learned, for example, that Veronica Mars is not listed on the CW's fall line-up. There have been rumors that the show would not continue in its current format, but this is a bit of a disappointment nonetheless. It's true that the show had gone down-hill. It opened with an excellent first season, but never repeated the depth or quality of that first season. The last few epidoses of this (the third season) have been stand-alone mysteries, which are entertaining in their own way but nothing at all like the tightly plotted narrative arc that drew me into the series. If that's the best they can do, maybe it's time to let the series go.

I won't say much about Lost, the other show I'm worried about. Plenty of bloggers ramble on and on about Lost. I'll just say that I feel that it, like Veronica Mars, had an excellent first season and has never been able to recapture the effect. I almost think that Lost would have been better as a mini-series than as a long-running television show. It needs some closure, people!

What interests me, though, is the contrast between those two shows, with their decline in popularity and quality, and the other show I regularly watch, Supernatural. Whereas we started watching Veronica Mars and Lost on DVD after hearing good things about them, we started watching Supernatural as it aired from the very beginning. I like ghost stories; it's a show about brothers who hunt ghosts, demons, and vampires. It seemed like a good fit in terms of content.

If you had asked me about the show last year, though, I would have said that I followed the series almost in spite of itself. I thought the writing was bad, especially the dialogue. I thought the acting was bad. I didn't like the main characters. I hated Jensen Ackles. I thought the sentimental moments were cheesy, and the comic moments (such as they were) unsuccessful. The only thing it had going for it was the "supernatural" content, and occasional signs of intelligently crafted plotting. Supernatural was my "guilty pleasure" in terms of television. Other graduate students watched Lost and Veronica Mars, and understood the appeal, but I felt that I had to apologize for Supernatural.

Imagine my surprise now, when I compare these three different series, and suspect that Supernatural might outlast Veronica Mars and Lost. Though Supernatural started off rockily, it has really improved. The plotting seems smarter and tighter. I think the plotting has improved, too: time and time again I would say "hey, what about da da da da," only to find that the writers were going to answer my question later that episode, or later that season.
The dialogue seems quite a bit better during the second season: some of the witty one-liners are actually FUNNY now. The writers have also developed a deeper "culture," to the show, creating a background community which was lacking in the first season, and hinting at more of a mythos. Perhaps most promising of all, the writers have begun experimenting with comic episodes, in the style of X-Files. (No surprise there: as I understand it, they have always admitted their debt to X-Files.)

The show is just plain getting better: more entertaining, more gripping, and more emotinally engaging. I care much more about the characters now than I did last year, and I want to know what happens next. The season finale, Tulip and I agreed, was just what a season finale SHOULD be: it wrapped up the important plot threads of the last season, providing narrative and emotional closure for the fate of one character in particular, but left open some plot lines to be resolved next season.

So that leaves me with some musings about what really makes for a successful series. Were and Lost and Veronica Mars in some ways actually handicapped by the success of their first seasons? Would they have done better if they had started off with "room to grow"? One might argue that when a show stops growing, it starts declining. And when a show starts declining, fans start watching. In terms of maintaining a fan base, perhaps it's better for a show to start off roughly and improve. Last season, I had doubts about whether I wanted to keep watching Supernatural. I wasn't sure that it was really worth an hour of my time every week. This season, there's no question: I want to keep following the series, in part because I think there's a good chance that's it's going to keep developing. I wish I could say the same thing for Lost and Veronica Mars. Even if they are renewed (the jury is still out on a new version of Veronica Mars), they just might not be worth the time commitment.


Blogger La Mama Loca said...

TV is evil!

1:42 PM  

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